Volkswagen heads the battery recycling research group
The HVBatCycle research consortium led by Volkswagen was founded with the aim of keeping cathode metals, electrolyte and graphite permanently in a closed loop. Under the leadership of the Volkswagen Group, Taniobis GmbH, J. Schmalz GmbH and Viscom AG are researching and developing the necessary processes. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection.
Michael Kellner, Parliamentary State Secretary in Germany, says: “European battery production can only be successful if it focuses on sustainability in as many areas as possible. Sustainable batteries are crucial for an energy and transport transition that is based on high environmental and social standards.”
Sebastian Wolf, Chief Operating Officer Battery Cell Volkswagen AG, says: “The recycling of batteries and production waste makes a crucial contribution to securing the supply of raw materials for our planned factories. The HVBatCycle project is preparing a holistic view of the recycling processes and thus the implementation of the closed cycle of battery materials.”
In order to use fewer materials from primary sources such as mines or salt flats, important raw materials can be recovered not just once but several times, according to Volkswagen. Battery cells made from recycled material are recycled again, proving that multiple recycling runs have no impact on material quality. According to the company, complex interdisciplinary processes are required to close the loop. For efficient, ecologically and economically sensible recycling, all processes must be tailored to the requirements.
The consortium project focuses on the mechanical-hydrometallurgical recycling route, which, according to Volkswagen, is characterized by low energy requirements and the possibility of a comparatively simple decentralized distribution of certain recycling processes in Europe. This favors a local circular economy and secures strategically important raw materials, which significantly reduces Europe’s dependence on other regions of the world. The HVBatCyce project aims to identify efficient processes and innovative solutions that ensure the development of a continuous value chain with high profitability while maximizing recycling and energy efficiency and minimizing environmental impact.
According to the company, concrete innovative development approaches lie in a needs-based ejection and a largely automated dismantling of backward battery systems down to the cell or electrode level. This also includes an almost loss-free separation of active material and carrier foils as well as the recovery of graphite and volatile electrolyte components.
In the hydrometallurgical processing of the “black mass”, which consists of graphite and battery metals, using water and chemical solvents, the focus is on the early and selective recovery of the lithium in soluble form and the leaching, precipitation and refining of the metals contained as a mixed hydroxide concentrate , says Volkswagen. In the context of the re-material synthesis of cathodic active material, the consortium will investigate whether the separation of metal compounds is necessary to produce new, fully performing cathode material.
Through research into the processing of the electrolyte and the graphite, the consortium wants to show that important electrolyte components and the graphite can also be processed efficiently and reused in cell production in a quality suitable for batteries. According to the company, all process steps are accompanied holistically by an ecological and economic life cycle analysis.
In February 2021, Volkswagen opened its first electric car battery recycling facility in Salzgitter, Germany, as reported in a previous Recycling Today article. The plant has laid the foundation for the construction of a battery cell factory, which is scheduled to go into operation in 2025.
According to Volkswagen website, “The Gigafactory Salzgitter will manufacture unified cells for the volume segment of the Volkswagen Group. In the first stage, the factory will produce an annual capacity of 20 gigawatt hours. It is planned to probably double this to a capacity of 40 gigawatt hours.”
Another previous Recycling Today article looked at the announcement of a joint venture between Umicore and Volkswagen to develop precursor and cathode material for EV battery cell production in Europe.